Frank Thompson, a recent widower and aging Vietnam veteran is down from Maine visiting his nephew, Bill, and his family in New Jersey.
While at a trap range, he and his nephew have a chance encounter with a strange man who claims to remember Frank from the war.
That night, the windows in Bill’s home are shattered along with the quiet peaceful lives the two men had been living.
Three veterans from a special combat unit directed by the CIA during the Vietnam War have gathered to discuss what they are going to do about a man they claim killed one of their own over forty years ago.
Jasper, Birdie and Pogo were part of a team that called themselves the National League All Stars. They were a squad of psychopathic killers trained by Special Forces to cause death and mayhem during the war. Now, they have banded together to hunt down and kill the professional soldier who led them all those years ago.
Drawing on his military training and a resurgent bloodlust from his tortured past, Frank prepares for a final, violent reckoning that will bring him full circle with the war that never left him.
Praise for THE DEAD DON’T SLEEP:
“The Dead Don’t Sleep is a skillfully plotted, fast-moving thriller brimming with a believable cast of characters, especially the indelible Frank Thompson, an old-school hero who I hope to see more of.” —David Swinson, author of Trigger and The Second Girl
“Russo’s The Dead Don’t Sleep is a pulse racing, chest thumper of a novel.” —Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of What You Break
“Imagine if Rambo had lived a quiet, undisturbed life in Maine until, many decades later, the ghosts of the Vietnam War came after him. That’s roughly the premise of The Dead Don’t Sleep, a gripping, highly readable contemporary thriller with a strong emotional undercurrent. Steven Max Russo has done a magnificent job rendering the unique hold Vietnam continues to claim on thousands of its veterans.” —Brad Parks, international bestselling author
“The Dead Don’t Sleep is a well-crafted, tense, suspenseful thriller in which hatred that’s lasted a lifetime explodes into violence with uncontrollable consequences.” —Thomas Perry, Edgar Award-winning author of The Butcher’s Boy
“A dark tale of vengeance and redemption, complete with mystery, secrets, and a longing for new adventure. A delectable and poignant read.” —Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Malta Exchange
“The Dead Don’t Sleep is white-knuckle, nonstop action, a story of hard men at their limits and grudges that never die.” —Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of House on Fire
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|Publisher:||Down & Out Books II, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.66(d)|
Read an Excerpt
New Jersey, Present Day
Bill watched his Uncle Frank, standing there a few feet away wearing jeans and a black, short-sleeved T-shirt. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in early April, the sun was out, and the temperature hovered right around sixty degrees.
Jacket weather thought Bill absently, not T-shirt weather
"Why don't you put that gun down, Uncle Frank? There's a rack right over there.
Come and sit down for a few minutes. We've got to wait for these guys to finish up."
Uncle Frank stepped a little closer to where Bill sat, the old Fox double-barrel shotgun hanging business end down in his left hand.
"I'm all right holding it, Billy. You know I don't like to put my weapon down."
"Why, you think someone is going to take that old shotgun home with him?" He said it with a smile.
Uncle Frank shook his head slightly, and then looked out at the other shooters taking their turns on the line.
"Aren't you cold? I've got an extra sweatshirt in the truck."
Uncle Frank took a small step closer to Bill. "Where I live, this is like summer. You never came up to visit us too close to either side of winter. When I left home three days ago, it was sixteen degrees in the sun, and that's no lie. Had what we call a warm spell. This, heck, this is downright balmy. I'm going to head home all tan and tell people I just came back from a tropical vacation." He smiled his easy smile, and it made Bill feel good to see it.
Bill didn't see his uncle often. Less and less it seemed, as they both got older. Frank was nearing seventy, though he could pass for ten years younger. He was tall, about six- one, with broad shoulders, salt and pepper hair that was still relatively thick, and arms that looked fit and strong. He had the beginnings of an old-man paunch around the belly that Bill was sure was a testament to his aunt's hearty cooking. Well, his late aunt. Bill, now in his early forties with a wife and two growing boys, just didn't have the time to travel up to Maine, where his reclusive uncle seemed to have always lived with his wife.
Frank's wife of more than forty-five years had passed away several weeks earlier. No one knew she had died until Uncle Frank called Bill two days after she was put in the ground. Said he didn't want a big thing made of it, people driving or flying up to that lit- tle town where he lived up in the wilds of Maine. He had asked Bill to let the rest of the family know that Aunt Sadie had passed, explain how things were, ask folks not to call him for a while, let him settle in. Bill had offered to drive up with his wife and the boys, stay with him for a few days, but Uncle Frank had declined. Said he needed a little space and some time alone to get used to things. Said not to worry, he was fine.
But Bill had worried.
The loud reports of the shotguns stopped abruptly. The five shooters began picking up their spent plastic shell casings and dumping them into buckets scattered along the shooting stations and then made their way back off the trap field to where Bill and his uncle waited along with three other shooters they did not know, who would round out their set.
"Looks like we're up, Uncle Frank."
Bill slipped a box of twenty-five neatly stacked target loads into a small ammo basket that he had purchased at a Dick's Sporting Goods store last year. The little basket was made to hold one box of shotgun shells and had a belt loop for securing it tight to your waist making it easy to reach and to reload. He watched with amusement as his uncle ripped open his box and began stuffing shells into the pockets of his jeans. When his box was empty, Uncle Frank's pockets bulged to about bursting.
"You gonna be able to walk with all those shells stuffed in there like that?"
"You mind your own business, Billy Boy. It's not the fancy gun or the pretty ammo basket knocks down those birds. It's the man behind the trigger." He gave a smile and a wink, and they headed to their positions on the shooting line.
They shot three rounds. Bill hit seventeen of twenty-five on the first round, then fifteen, and then nineteen. Frank hit thirteen the first round, then began feeling more comfortable with the old Fox as he got reacquainted with it and hit twenty-two and then twenty-three in the final round.
After picking up the spent shells and dumping them into the buckets, they went back to the bench. Bill laid his Beretta semi-auto in the rack and began loading his protective shooting glasses, ammo basket and noise suppression headphones into his bag. Uncle Frank stood a little ways off and pulled out the foam plugs he had stuffed into his ears with his right hand while holding onto his old Fox with his left. He threw the plugs into the large garbage can and stood watching the men who were shooting or milling about behind the firing lines waiting their turns.
When they had finished gathering their things, they walked over to the field house. Bill went inside to pay for the six rounds of trap they had shot. There were chairs and tables on the porch of the field house, and Frank waited in one of them watching their gear. When Bill returned from inside, he found a hot cup of coffee waiting for him. His uncle was sipping from a can of Coke. Bill sat down and sipped his coffee. It felt good going down, taking away some of the chill of the day even though Bill was wearing a thick sweatshirt. Frank seemed totally unbothered by the temperature as he sat with his big hand wrapped around his frosty can of soda.
"You really started knocking them down after that first round. What were you doing, using both barrels?" Bill looked over at Frank. Frank answered without turning to look back at him, instead staring straight ahead at the men shooting.
"I should have used both barrels. My eyes, they're not what they used to be. That gun, the old Fox, it's nice. I bought that before you were born. It's gotta be over fifty years old now. Used to use it when I went hunting with your father, when we were young. Haven't shot it in years. The old guns, they made them out of higher quality metal back then. That's why they last."
"It's a beautiful gun. My dad used to tell me about that gun, about when you and he went hunting and sometimes you'd load up both barrels with double ought to take down a rabbit. Said there'd be nothing left but scraps of bloody fur."
"Yeah, that's true. Thought it was funny then, not so much anymore." "You still hunt?"
"No, I lost my taste for killing things a while back. Was pretty good at it for a long time though. Always enjoyed the stalking part, the tracking, the waiting. Never really liked pulling the trigger. But when I did kill, I tried always to harvest what I could. What we didn't eat, we gave to neighbors or donated to those less fortunate."
"Except those rabbits, I guess." Bill said it with a smile. "Yeah, except maybe those rabbits." Frank didn't smile back.
"I thought you still went on those trips with Aunt Sadie's side of the family. Didn't you tell me that you went to hunting camp with them last year? Geez, I remember going with you and Dad when I was just a kid."
"Well, that camp has changed some since you were there. We built a cabin about ten or so years ago. Put up one of those prefab log jobs. Real nice, ran electric and everything, keep a small gas generator in back so they can actually heat the place, plug in lights and a radio and such. And yeah, I still go. But I don't hunt. I keep camp; you know, do the cooking and make sure those boys don't drink. Hell, it's dangerous enough traipsing around in the woods with all of those tourists during the hunting season. I know you've read about them getting all excited and shooting someone's cow thinking they're bagging a moose or something. Those stories are true. I know some people paint the word cow on the side of their livestock in big white letters, just to let them know. Still lose animals every year."
"Wow, that's funny." "Pathetic more like it."
Bill noticed that even though his uncle was talking to him, his eyes were on something or someone out in one of the trap fields.
"What are you looking at? You see someone you know?"
Uncle Frank stood up, grabbed his shotgun off the rack with his left hand, and then reached over and grabbed Bill's shotgun with his right.
"Let's head back, Billy. I just got a chill."
Without another word, he turned and began walking briskly toward the steps that led to the lot where Bill's 2011 Jeep Cherokee was parked.
Bill had the rear hatch open and was loading his shotgun into its soft padded carrying case when he heard a voice that he didn't recognize say "Hey, don't I know you?"
Bill turned around to see an older man smiling, or perhaps sneering at him, it was hard to tell which. He wore dark, mirrored aviator sunglasses and had on a dark ball cap with no insignia on it. He was on the short side, around five-six or five- seven, had on a blue, long sleeved T-shirt with some sort of union emblem under a camouflage shooting vest. His blue jeans were old and worn, as were his scuffed black motorcycle boots.
Bill pulled his head out of the back of the Jeep and turned to face the man.
"I don't know, sir. You don't look familiar. My name's Bill." He smiled and extended his hand to the stranger, but the man ignored it.
"Not talking to you son, I'm talking to him." The man nodded his head and Bill turned around to see his uncle standing a few steps behind him. His uncle stood erect, his right arm holding the old double barrel shotgun pointed slightly downward. His left arm hung loosely at his side, like an old-time gunslinger. The look on his face was something that Bill had never seen before; it was totally blank. Even his eyes seemed dark and lifeless, like those of a shark.
"I've seen you before," said the man, stepping around Bill so that he was looking up directly into Frank's face. "Just can't seem to grab hold of it yet. Blast from the past, you know what I mean? Still a little fuzzy around the edges. But it will come to me. I'm good with faces. Not good with names, but I'm damn good with faces. It will come."
The men looked at each other, not more than two feet apart, neither saying anything for a few long seconds. Bill noticed the shotgun start moving ever so slightly upward.
Finally, Frank broke the silence. "You're mistaken friend, you don't know me. I'm not from around here."
He stepped past the man and laid the old Fox next to Bill's Beretta in the back of the Jeep, then slammed the gate closed. The man continued to watch Frank, stepping close and invading his personal space, like a dog sniffing at someone, that strange smile never leaving his face.
Frank turned and looked down at the man. Then he stepped closer still; leaning down and in until they were just inches from each other, face-to-face. The other man conceded no space; they were like two bulls snorting at each other. Bill thought that one or the other might take a swing and without really thinking about it, readied himself in case he might need to step between them.
"We'll be leaving now." Frank spoke so softly that Bill almost didn't hear him. Then he said much louder, his eyes never leaving those of the other man, "Let's get going Billy, and leave this gentleman to his recollections."
Frank turned away from the man and walked to the passenger side door, opened it, and got in. Bill looked at the stranger for a second more, but the man just stared at where Frank had disappeared into the Jeep, that same strange smile on his face. Then Bill checked the tailgate to make sure that it was shut properly and walked around to the driver's side door, opened it, and got in.
"What the hell is with that guy?" he asked his uncle as he turned the key and started the engine. "I thought you two were gonna start brawling right there in the parking lot."
Frank patted his nephew on the thigh gently, looking straight ahead. "Why don't you get us out of here?"
As Bill put the transmission into reverse, the man with the mirrored sunglasses and the weird, scary smile stepped around to the passenger side window. He peered in, his face inches from the glass. Uncle Frank did nothing for a second, then pushed the button on the door's armrest, and the window lowered. He turned his head slowly and looked at the stranger but didn't say anything.
"It's starting to come to me, out of the haze of the past. I know your face. You were in the shit, man, I know you were. You were in the shit. Am I right? Am I right?"
Uncle Frank sighed, and then said, "It's all shit, partner, isn't it?" He pressed the but- ton again, and the window rose slowly. He looked at his nephew and said, "Drive, Billy Boy, drive."
Bill backed out of the spot carefully, turned the wheel and headed out of the parking lot toward the road. He looked in the rearview mirror and saw the man staring after them. As he watched, the man reached into his vest pocket and pulled out what looked to be a small pad and a pen and began writing something down. Bill continued watching, keeping one eye on the road in front and one eye on the mirror as the Jeep reached the end of the lot, and then the road. He stopped and looked both ways preparing to exit the parking lot onto the roadway, but before he did, he stole one last look in the mirror. The strange man was gone. He turned the wheel to the left, hit the gas, and they began the drive back to his house in Hackensack.
After a few minutes of driving in silence, Bill said, "You gonna tell me what that was all about back there?"
Uncle Frank looked out the window as they drove east along Route 46. The road was lined on both sides with an endless succession of strip malls.
"I'm not really sure. Didn't have a real good feeling about that one, you know? He was watching me, it seems, right from when we first got there. Guess he thinks he knows me from somewhere. But he's mistaken."
"What'd he mean when he said that you were in the shit?"
"I believe he meant the war. I can't stand it when those old guys go all Hollywood. Lots of them never even fired a shot in the war. Not every Vietnam veteran was out there in the jungle with a rifle. Leastwise, I bet most of them Hollywood types weren't."
"So, he thinks he knows you from the war?"
"Yeah, I guess." Uncle Frank turned away from the side window and looked straight ahead.
"Does he what?" Now Frank turned and looked at his nephew. "Does he know you from the war?"
Frank shook his head and looked down at his lap. "Hell, I don't know. I served two tours. Ran across a lot of people. I sure as hell don't remember him. I didn't like him much, though. Something about him made me real uneasy. It was something he gave off, an aura, like bad body odor. That was why I wanted to get out of there. He was trouble for sure."
"Was he really a Vietnam veteran? I mean, could you tell? Maybe he was just some guy acting out. He seemed pretty strange to me. Actually, I thought he seemed crazy. I mean like insane crazy. He had that weird smile, not happy at all, more menacing than anything, like a psycho smile, you know? And he kept getting in your face. I thought you were going to hit him, I really did."
"Well, I come pretty close to taking a swing, that's no lie. Seems a bit irrational now that I think about it from a distance. Still, you get some crazies. It's best to leave them be and get on your way. Guy like that hanging out at a gun range, and you ask me why I never put down my weapon. But to answer your question, I'd say probably yes. Was about the right age anyway."
"Were you in the, uh, field, Uncle Frank? In Vietnam I mean." "You mean was I in the shit?" Both men smiled.
"Well, I was for a while. I guess you know I don't like to talk about it much. I know you and your brothers, and your cousins too, all heard stories about me, mostly speculation about what I did in the war. Figure I'm some kind of Rambo or secret agent or some such nonsense. But I was just a grunt, a regular soldier. Did a stint in intelligence, so I guess that's where all those stories and speculation come from? But it was mostly reading maps, trying to guess what the enemy was up to and where they'd be heading next."
"But you did two tours. My dad told me you won some medals. Said you were wounded in action. More than once. That true?"
Frank turned his gaze back out the passenger-side window.
"If you don't want to talk about it Uncle Frank, I understand. It's none of my business. I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable. I was just curious, you know? That's all."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Dead Don't Sleep"
Copyright © 2019 Steven M. Russo.
Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Dead Don't Sleep,
About the Author,
Also by the Author,